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Drops in Students Pursuing Teaching Profession Worry Former Education Secretary

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May is National Teacher Appreciation Month. But here in Virginia, some worry about the the profession of teaching.

“I’m really concerned about the teaching profession,” says Anne Holton, former Virginia education secretary who’s now at George Mason University.

“I’m concerned by drops in the number of students entering education prep programs. That’s both nationally and in Virginia. There’s been a drastic drop in the number of students expressing interest in entering the profession.”

John O’Neil at the Virginia Education Association says Virginia ranks 32nd in the country in teacher pay. And the average teacher pay in Virginia is about $8,400 less than the national average.

“This is the month when a lot of students graduate from college, and they have a lot of options before them. And if they go into teaching they are actually going to face a wage penalty of about 31 percent according to the Economic Policy Institute.”

This year, the General Assembly approves a 5 percent pay raise for teachers. Holton and O’Neil both say that’s an improvement. But they both added that even with that pay raise the state’s investment in education is still not what it was before the recession.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.